The have offered to stand down their fighters for several days, in an effort to restart peace negotiations with the US that were abruptly called off last year by Donald Trump.
The proposal for a seven to 10-day halt in military operations was given to the US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad on Wednesday, . The US, which has been pushing for a ceasefire to pave the way for new talks, is still evaluating the insurgents’ offer, an American official said.
The offer was reportedly handed over in Qatar, which hosts a Taliban political delegation and has been the venue for many rounds of talks. The group’s top leadership is based in Pakistan and envoys have been shuttling back and forth between the countries.
Washington last year appeared to be edging closer to an agreement to end its longest war, after nearly two decades, and bring thousands of troops home. But after a spike in violence and the death of a US soldier in September, Trump announced on Twitter that he had .
Two months later, on a Thanksgiving trip to troops stationed on the ground, he , saying that the Taliban “want to make a deal”, but it would be conditional on a ceasefire.
A day later the militant group confirmed they were ready to restart talks. However, they have reportedly been concerned about agreeing to a ceasefire, for fear that it would sap fighters’ morale and potentially undermine their position on the battlefield if it proved hard to redeploy fighters.
The Taliban control large swaths of the countryside but do not hold any major towns or cities. “There was a thinking within the Taliban ranks that it would be difficult for them to reorganise fighters after a break in fighting,” one Taliban official told AP.
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A short and partial ceasefire may allow the group to avoid those concerns. Pakistan’s foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, said in a video message only that the Taliban were “ready for a reduction in violence”, rather than using the word ceasefire. The New York Timesthat the Taliban had offered to scale back violence, not halt it entirely.
Any kind of ceasefire may help bring Afghan officials into the peace process, as it would presumably require a matching commitment from Afghan security forces to temporarily lay down arms.
“The signals from Doha point toward the Taliban edging closer to a deal with the Americans that would kickstart a peace process,” said Graeme Smith, senior consultant with the International Crisis Group.
“The Taliban have not launched a major urban attack anywhere in the country for two months. Such a calibrated pause is highly unusual. While insurgent attacks continue in rural areas, this suggests the Taliban do not want to spoil the ongoing diplomacy.”
President Ashraf Ghani and his team have largely been excluded from US-Taliban discussions because the militants denounce the Kabul government as US puppets and refuse to speak to them.
Khalilzad has said in the past that a US-Taliban deal covering the withdrawal of American troops would also pave the way for negotiations between Afghans on all sides of the war, although critics fear that any Taliban commitments carry little weight without a mechanism to enforce them.
The situation is complicated by Afghanistan’s political fragility. It is still waiting for the official results of a presidential election held last September, which was marred by low turnout and violence before contested vote counting even began. , but his main rival Abdullah Abdullah is contesting the count.